Artwork by Clinton McKay
I'm 80 now. The match.com personal ad women responded much better when I was seventy-nine. Eighty means they will be a widow again soon, if they pair with me.
Which means my "profile" must be written much better than before. I can no longer afford to be honest.
When I was 79, I asked for a woman like C___. Demanded her. C___ was a belly dancer/artist/author who took hormones, looked and acted 15 years younger than her real age. We made love ten hours a week. I demanded any woman who answered my ad must be like C___.
The women were intrigued, but intimidated.
"I can do some of that," a wealthy lady from San Francisco offered, "but I'm not a belly dancer..."
I have no time. I'm eighty. I could be dead in my sleep tonight. My kitty is dying, and a 69-year-old personal ad woman just dumped me for being honest.
"Clearly," she e-mailed, "I am in some sort of nether world far, far away from you. I would be devoured in a very short time. You will blossom in the exotic embrace of your other women, because this is what you are. I am embarrassed I had the temerity to share even a little of my sedate self. Wonderful things are in store for you because you dare to be the outrageous creature you are. Karen."
I've dumped women using that same gracious generosity. Possible to do when emotionally free. How did she free herself of me so fast? Because I admitted I am still probably commitment phobic? Or because I admitted my ardor organ might be slightly dysfunctional?
She bowed out quickly. Maybe it's better she did. But not a great thrill.
I don't know what they want. Anyone. I'm 80, look 70, so what, big deal. Who wants to be seventy? I get up four to six times a night to urinate, and I could conk out any moment with a second heart attack. Or a stroke. Likely a stroke this time. I'm taking three different blood thinners to avoid a heart attack, so a brain blood leak, stroke, is probably next.
I have no time. I'm a good person. They say. They don't know what I know. My son's one-year death anniversary for jumping off the Bay Bridge was six days ago.
"When do you want to bury his ashes?" my daughter-in-law asked me yesterday. "There's no hurry. Or we could scatter them in the Bay."
Nine pounds of ashes in the garage. My son.
The kitty, seven months old, is here beside me on the bed, dying, paralyzed. Tomorrow my surviving son and I will take her to the vet. Last trip. My grandson will be ruined by it for a while. Ten years old, he suffers nakedly, no armor developed yet for death.
My own armor is so stiff, I can hardly feel a thing. A sleep walker with death. Suffering far away in another dimension.
The police gave me the telephone number of a witness, a young woman who saw my boy jump. A year ago last Tuesday.
I called her. She was crying. "I saw him go over the barrier. Fast. Then he stood on the ledge. He raised his arms." She sobbed. "Like a victory sign, like making a victory sign. He jumped. Like a child does. Into a pool."
A pool 240 feet below. Last night I saw him in a video taken at my 70th birthday party, ten years ago. He stood up, gave a little tribute to me.
"Dad is always kind," he said. "To me, and everybody. If there is a God—he would be like my dad."
That was ten years ago. Before the schizophrenic drugs made him gain 40 pounds.
The kitty is next to me. Not purring anymore. Maybe I'll let him stay on my bed tonight. His last night. He likes to be here next to me.
I don't know what to do about the personal ads. I do them only because not to do them is to accept death.
I create reasons to keep doing the ads. Other than the putting-off-death reason. My latest reason is cheap, trite, disgusting, beneath me. But would make a story. Would give me a plot, a structure, to make a story. There's only time for real life, not fiction. It would be a cheap, nasty plot device to put in that story. Maybe what they want. Fake plot premise, platform, that I am doing the personal ads only to obtain, finally, a soul mate. That this would honor, fill in for, be a surrogate for my two dead sons who died without even one romance in their life.
Gimmick—father, by proxy, gives completion to his two poor sons' dead lives by at last finding a perfect love—for all of them. The two boys, the father.
Disgusting. I despise fiction. Do they want fiction? I don't know what they want.
Whores, I've known a few, have a higher standard of ethics than such a gimmick.
"Did you know you're full of crap?" I ask myself more than once a day.
"Yes," I answer.
Eighty-two pills a day to stay alive. Wish I had pills that would help my kitty. Kitty would be seven years old, if human. I don't know which pills to stop. I order new mail-order hot salvation pills every month. Especially sex pills. Should I write about the sex pills?
No. Yet, in real life, the pills are everything. I could do the personal ads to the peak, the brim, the goddamned apex, if the sex pills, any of them, one of them, worked. Three days ago, I ordered a month's supply, $37.90, of "Testozan," which guarantees waking up with the means to surprise one's lady beyond belief. Her screaming to slow down, but loving every hour of it.
One of the dozen potents I'm imbibing better work soon. Or why do the personal ads?
Went to the infamous "Boston Clinic" last year. Free demonstration of an injection directly into the limp member, which produced an incredible youth-like sturdiness for a full 45 minutes, but failed in real life, due to my distaste for needles.
Tired of the personal ads. Match.com gives me each day a new batch of 12 women who look like Whistler's Mother. Proud of their silver hair, delighted in their ugly lack of vanity. I can't stand it.
Kitty stirs beside me. Life a bad dream. I touch his poor, ruined body, "I love you, pussy cat. Daddy's little sweetheart. Pussy cat. You love me, kitty? Am I your pal, your buddy? Yes, I am..."
I talked to my two dead boys that way when they were babies. Long ago. My first-born son, autistic, genius on IQ tests, murdered his only "girlfriend," stalked her from age 14 to 24, murdered her, jumped from that monster San Francisco skyscraper, 33rd floor. Damn evil monument. I avoid looking at it, dark presence gloating in the skyline.
"Cremate me, bury my ashes next to Melvina." Note found on my son's crushed body.
People I know don't bring it up. Two suicide boys. People who newly find out, look at me silently, semi-intent, not unkindly, not kindly. Who is this man whose two boys killed themselves?
Does the prestigious literary journal want me to write about that? Scavenger, garbage man. Scouring tragedy for real-life "literature."
The truth is only for masochists and sadists.
No. Not that. It is fiction that is harmful. When I have four months to live, I want the doctor to tell me the truth. Not the Santa Claus, Tooth Fairy, Loch Ness Monster, sweet fiction version. "Well, we may find something, they're working on it right now, a new procedure, cure, there's always hope."
Instead I want the truth: "You have four months to live, maybe less. Prepare to die, help your survivors. Sorry."
The truth is, I am the oldest person wherever I go. More than twice as old as my driving-under-the-influence classmates every Thursday afternoon, 3:00 to 4:30 p.m., nine more weeks. They are vaguely unhappy grandpa is sharing their misdemeanor. I walk there, two miles, no car, license suspended. Check how I look in the store window reflections. Take longer steps, head held higher, to look like not an old man.
In real life, that's the way it is. In real life my surviving son will find my porno tape in my upper dresser drawer when I'm dead. He'll grin, not tell anyone. Santa Claus and grandpas don't watch porno tapes.
Fiction is like the people in the obits. They never sinned, were perfect parents, perfect spouses, perfect fictions.
"No obituary," I'll tell my son and daughter soon. "No obituary."
No. I won't say that. Obits are for the living. Soothing. Fiction. Escape from real life. Gentle lies. As harmless as all the other disgusting myths.
Enough. Too late for anger. I forgive all the fairy tale monstrosities of everyday life. Obits are for the living. Lies to comfort, comfort lies.
Wasting time, I'm searching here, kitty lying frozen-still next to me. Searching for: "We like what you are doing. Your strong voice. Keep writing. We want to see your new work!"
Flying in my dream, aloft for a few seconds, realizing I don't know how to fly, will fall soon.
I'm not sad. Like the other six billion poor bastards, I feel there is something I need to know, am half forgetting, must attend to. But I am a reasonably happy animal. As aware as my dying kitty.
The kitty is dying from an unknown cause or causes. Blood clot, brain tumor, wasting disease. I am dying with commitment phobia. Suffered it the last 60 years, through 47 years of enforced marital and other coupling, only free of it for the three years with C___, the magic belly dancer.
Probably it's back again. Probably it drove away that last nice lady, Kathy. Sublimally.
Commitment phobia is simple.
"All at once, it's all over, life is over, you're in the grave," I explained recently to a poor, innocent woman friend who got dumped by a commitment phobe. "It's not your fault, you did nothing. For him it was like he was in the coffin, six feet under, smothered, no way out. Extreme claustrophobia. It's not your fault. It's not his fault. He can't help it."
She was relieved, angry, doubtful, grateful... She was not in a mood to hear how commitment phobes are created by domineering mothers who assemble a mama's boy, perfect little gentleman, control his every thought and deed, even his bowel movements if possible—and then the boy grows up, picks a mate exactly like Mama, normal, non-controlling women seen as non-persons. Next—Mama's back! Christ Almighty, how do I get out of this?!
My kitty gets to keep his balls. All the women I've known seem not to worry if a male kitty gets fixed. My grandma on the farm "fixed" the young boars so they would get fatter, be less aggressive, less male-like.
"Take away their lean, take away their mean," Grandma liked to say.
When spring castration time on the farm came upon us, I'd run, hide. Screams of the little pigs. My kitty will die with his balls on. Won't need to be commitment phobic.
Maybe they don't want me to write about castration.
I think maybe they may want me to write about real life, remodeled. An orderly sweet version of real life. Fiction, that's the ticket. Escape. Finer than real life.
I'm too old for fiction.
In real life I have a potential soul mate right now, a soul mate in the magical personal ads. She's real, wonderful, everything I dreamed of, crazy as me, nice as me. If I were nice. Everyone likes me better than I do.
And she lives safely 3,800 miles away. Toronto, Canada.
Should I write about her? If I write fiction for that kind editor, she could be the end of the story.
In real life, there are problems. She is my soul mate. But is the wildest woman in nonfiction. Wilder than Henry Miller, Anais Nin, Van Gough, Bukowski, all my heroes.
That's it, can tell no more, end of story...
Later. Day later.
In real life, stories don't end. Kitty is dead, gone. Killed by the vet. A kind woman, the vet.
I fed kitty one last time, gave him water. My surviving son, never autistic or schizophrenic, my best friend, helped me, drove us there. I held the kitty, talked to him, caressed his trembling body.
Came home here, after. Put all of his kitty things away. The water bowl, treat bowl, litter box, his toys. Hid them from me.
It's lovely that the editor of the fine literary journal said those kind words. If I knew what he wanted, I'd do it.
What do I know about myself that doesn't let me like myself as others do? Eighty years of a secret I don't know.
One more time. Do they want real life or fiction? Fiction that sounds like real life? I'd rather do real life that doesn't sound like fiction.
What are my deepest, truest thoughts? I don't know. Too busy now.
Perhaps my deepest, truest thoughts are mildly like those of Sartre and Camus. Maybe I am an existentialist. An ignorant existentialist. Mildly optimistic. Not about tomorrow, about being.
I should perhaps write something very emotional. Then people who don't know me would love me like those who do.
The kitty isn't here to distract me. I have here, just now, made a list, ten items accidentally, of moments of extreme emotion. My kitty is dead now, would be number 11, but I am too old to be emotional now like the first ten. Repeated pain mutes.
My father died when I was three and a half. They lowered his coffin into the hole. Threw dirt on it. "Is that when I screamed?" I asked my mother later, over and over. "No," she said tiredly. "You didn't scream. You were a good boy, a very good boy."
When I was ten, my dog was run over. I have never loved again enough. I buried her. Soul buried.
When I was 24, our troop ship left New York City for Germany in the winter. As we stood on deck, we gazed back open-mouthed at the Statue of Liberty. It grew smaller in the cold mist. Tears in our eyes. In the last two years I had taken the virginity of two young women who loved me. Now I was escaping them, my stomach burning with guilt, grief. Free now, tormented, sad.
When I was 35, the court told me I must return my children from Nebraska, back to their mother and dangerous boyfriend in California.
I wanted desperately to flee with them instead, start a new life, new name. Had a half-day to make the decision. Soul torn apart. Agonized.
"I want to see Mama," my little girl said. Made my decision. Never felt that much pain again.
When I was 44, the son who jumped off the bridge a year ago, was five years old then, was being operated on to remove a cancerous brain tumor. An unbeliever, I prayed to God while waiting, broke down in the bathroom, sobbing helplessly.
When I was 50, I flew back to Nebraska to hold my mother's hand as she lay dying from bone cancer. She was high on morphine, but in an instance of clarity she said, "This is only the beginning. We will meet again. In a wonderful place. I can't wait to see my mama and papa!"
When I left the dark hospital room, she was asleep, mouth agape. Like a woman caught alive in the Pompeii ashes.
When I was 56 my other children and I buried the ashes of my first born near the lake he loved. My surviving son today, my best friend, carved the initials side-by-side of my dead boy and the girl he murdered, carefully carved them into a little boulder next to the grave. It was daybreak. Sound of a meadow lark.
When I was 59, my surviving son, 26 then, was having a dangerous tumor on his pituitary gland removed at Stanford Hospital. As I drove his pregnant wife home, I told her: "Whatever happens, you'll get through. I'm always here. You'll be all right." The pain thermostat is strange. It shuts off enough to survive, almost.
A year ago, when I was 79, my youngest son bored holes in every room in our home to find the bugs the "Mafia" placed there. After the final breakdown, he jumped off the bridge. I miss him every day. Miss watching his favorite TV shows with him to fight his loneliness. Miss watching Rocky and Caddy Shack over and over with him. Miss our long walks each day along the Bay, the beautiful evil bridge waiting there.
And now my kitty is dead. I've erased all traces here of his existence, hidden them away. He remains.
What does that kind literary editor want from me? Fine writing. I don't care about fine writing. It isn't important. Content is. A powerful gutsy car is immensely superior to a pretty car.
Excellent editors don't like clichés. Yet, though pale from overuse, clichés in their weakened state are often quicker purveyors of meaning than their creative, distracting substitutes. I practice what I speak, even though not preaching to the choir.
My life is short now. I will pay severe attention only to substance, content, the tree itself, not the pretty ornaments.
I don't like myself as well as others like me, but that's all right. I put up with myself, distant fondness, as one does with a friend whose irritating qualities have become almost tolerable after long familiarity.
My kitty is gone; I'll recover. As I have, somewhat, from the other deaths.
My own death, tomorrow, next year, ten years from now, I regard neither with fear nor affection, having been around death a long time.
Janus, the dear poet/weightlifter/artist/novelist, safely far away in Canada, e-mailed me today: "Are you all right? I'm worried about you."
I'm all right, I told her. She has the soul of Henry Miller, Anaïs Nin, Chagall, can bench press 230 pounds. I adore her, will follow up best I can, because she is delicious and may be my final sweetheart.
"When he was 79, lots of women answered his personal ad, but now that he is 80, they are reminded if they couple with him, they might be a widow again soon."
Those are the facts, that's the way it is in real life. Now to make a story of it. Without fiction.
In real life, however, there is no ending. I just now went outside to walk rapidly for 20 minutes.
When I returned, breathing hard, feeling reasonably virtuous, I sensed something different. An omen? In those 20 minutes, nature had performed a magic trick. A tree limb, about 16 feet long, five inches thick, had fallen 40 feet from the towering monster tree next to my house, smashed down, landing with its twisted torn tip three inches from the front window.
What a wonderful, terrifying crash I missed!
Now to search for the meaning. Or lack of meaning. Excitement in real life, drama.
And try to write the story, flying. Without remembering the how, only the sweeping joy.